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Review: Auralic ALTAIR G1.1 Streaming DAC – A Sonic Odyssey of Excellence

Review: Auralic ALTAIR G1.1 Streaming DAC - A Sonic Odyssey of Excellence - Embark on a sonic journey with the Auralic Altair G1.1 - a streaming DAC uniting technical brilliance and customizable features.

Introduction: Embarking on a Sonic Odyssey with Auralic’s ALTAIR G1.1 Streaming DAC

In the realm of audio enthusiasts, Auralic is a vanguard of modern audio streaming technologies. The ALTAIR G1.1, a streaming DAC with a price tag of around 3,000 euros, beckons audiophiles into a world where cutting-edge engineering converges with aural finesse. Founded in 2009 by Xuanqian Wang and Yuan Wang, Auralic has steadily crafted a distinctive range of high-end streaming components, each promising a sonic journey of unparalleled quality. This review delves into the ALTAIR G1.1, exploring its design, features, and the symphony it weaves for those who seek an uncompromising audio experience.

The ALTAIR G1.1 is a testament to Auralic’s commitment to innovation and excellence. Boasting a UnityChassis II housing, this streaming DAC marries aesthetic elegance with robust construction. With an array of proprietary features, such as a unique USB port treatment and a temperature-controlled clock, the device sets the stage for an audio escapade. Join us as we dissect the ALTAIR G1.1, exploring its connectivity, operating concept, and the sonic nuances that unfold, promising a harmonious union of artistry and technology.

Auralic: Pioneering Excellence in High-End Audio: Founded in 2009 by Xuanqian Wang and Yuan Wang, Auralic has etched its name as a trailblazer in the realm of high-end audio streaming components. The Chinese manufacturer, now with a development office in the USA, boasts an unconventional yet impressive lineup, including the ALTAIR G1.1, a streaming DAC and preamplifier that exemplifies the brand’s commitment to cutting-edge technology and sonic precision. Renowned for UnityChassis II housing, Auralic’s products marry elegant design with robust engineering, offering audiophiles a gateway to a world of uncompromising audio quality. From streaming bridges to DAC preamplifiers, Auralic’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of audio excellence places them at the forefront of the modern generation of audio components.

Specifications:

BENCHMARK
Frequency Response: 20 – 20KHz, +/- 0.1dB*
THD+N: < 0.0002% (XLR); < 0.0003% (RCA), 20Hz-20KHz at 0dBFS
Dynamic Range: 124dB, 20Hz-20KHz, A-weighted
STREAMING FILE FORMAT
Lossless: AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, OGG, WAV and WV
Lossy: AAC, MP3, MQA** and WMA
SAMPLING RATE
PCM: 44.1KHz to 384KHz in 32Bit***
DSD: DSD64(2.8224MHz), DSD128(5.6448MHz), DSD256(11.2896MHz), DSD512(22.57892MHz)****
Control Software:AURALiC Lightning DS for iOS
AURALiC Lightning DS for web browser (device setting only)
OpenHome compatible control software (BubbleUPnP, Kazoo)
Roon (Roon Core required separately)
AUDIO INPUTS
Digital Inputs:AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink, USB Audio
Streaming Inputs:Network shared folder, USB Storage, USB CD Drive, Optional Internal Storage, UPnP/DLNA Media Server, native TIDAL, HighResAudio and Qobuz Sublime+, Internet Radio, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Songcast, RoonReady
AUDIO OUTPUTS
Balanced:XLR (4.5Vrms at 0dBFS, output impedance 10ohm)
Unbalanced:RCA (4.5Vrms at 0dBFS, output impedance 50ohm)
Headphone:6.35mm Headphone Jack (output impedance 5ohm)
NETWORK
Wired:Gigabit Ethernet
Wireless:802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-Band WiFi
POWER CONSUMPTOIN
Playback:50W at max.
GENERAL
Dimensions:34cm x 32cm x 8cm
Weight:6.8kg
Finish:Anodized aluminum case in matte black

Auralic’s Distinctive Product Lineup: Elevating Sonic Experiences

Auralic’s product portfolio is a testament to its dedication to delivering unparalleled sonic experiences in high-end audio. The flagship ALTAIR G1.1, a streaming DAC and preamplifier, epitomizes the brand’s commitment to merging cutting-edge technology with exquisite craftsmanship. However, the Auralic lineup extends beyond, offering various options catering to diverse preferences and performance classes.

At the forefront is the Altair G2.1, a higher-quality sibling to the G1.1, followed by the Aries G1.1 and Aries G2.2, serving as streaming bridges or “Transporters.” The Vega G2.2 is the current top-tier streaming DAC preamplifier, showcasing Auralic’s continuous pursuit of audio excellence. Complementing these is the Leo GX1, a master clock designed to enhance the Vega G2.2 and Aries G2.2 performance.

The upcoming Vega and Aries G3 models are noteworthy, expected to surpass their predecessors, and position themselves in a league above the current 2.2 models. This dynamic range lets customers choose between bridge components for streaming or integrated streaming DAC preamplifiers, accommodating various performance classes and preferences. As Auralic anticipates the future with the G3 platform, its distinctive product lineup affirms its commitment to pushing the boundaries of audio innovation.

UnityChassis II: Where Aesthetic Elegance Meets Robust Engineering

Auralic’s UnityChassis II stands as a pinnacle in the fusion of aesthetic sophistication and mechanical durability, notably featured in the Altair G1.1. This chassis design, introduced with the Vega G2, undergoes a subtle transformation in the G1.1, maintaining an elegant and reserved look while incorporating refinements.

The UnityChassis II is characterized by a solid base plate and a meticulously crafted, thick-walled lid with seamlessly integrated front and rear walls. Despite the appearance of individual panels, the entire housing is ingeniously crafted from a single piece, exhibiting a level of precision rarely found in the 3,000 euro class. The front panel, with its slight curvature, hosts a headphone jack, a vivid 4-inch color display, and a tactile rotary knob. While the G1.1’s appearance is already captivating, the top models add an inner housing made of copper for an additional touch of sophistication.

Distinguishing itself from its upscale counterparts, the Altair and Aries G1.1 models present a silver base plate and rotary push button, offering a visual contrast that enhances the overall aesthetic appeal. Despite foregoing the specialized device feet found in the top-tier models, the Altair G1.1 opts for simple yet effective aluminum feet, striking a balance between visual allure and practical design. In essence, the UnityChassis II in the Altair G1.1 is a testament to Auralic’s commitment to crafting audio components that deliver superior performance and stand as aesthetic masterpieces within the high-end audio landscape.

High-Resolution Display: Where Clarity Meets Intuition

The Altair G1.1’s operational core is complemented by a high-resolution color display, surpassing 300 pixels per inch. Positioned centrally on the front panel, this display becomes the canvas for Auralic’s intuitive operating concept. Controlled by a tactile rotary and push mechanism, the information presented includes symbols and menus that facilitate user interaction without resorting to touch controls. This choice in interface design represents a deliberate departure from contemporary trends, opting for a classic yet accessible approach.

In tandem with the UnityChassis II, the Altair G1.1’s display provides operational feedback and enhances the overall visual appeal. The clarity, precision, and vibrant presentation on the screen contribute to a user experience that transcends conventional audio component interfaces.

In summary, the Altair G1.1’s build design and display exemplify Auralic’s commitment to crafting audio components that seamlessly blend form and function. The UnityChassis II and the high-resolution display converge to create an audiovisual masterpiece, elevating the Altair G1.1 to a level of sophistication that transcends its price point.

Connectivity Unveiled: The Comprehensive and Pragmatic Design of Altair G1.1

Navigating the rear panel of the Auralic Altair G1.1 unveils a connectivity landscape meticulously designed to balance comprehensiveness with pragmatic functionality. This streaming DAC, priced at around 3,000 euros, seamlessly integrates into audio setups, providing essential connections while remaining practical in its approach.

High-quality RCA and antenna sockets adorn the rear panel, catering to analog and digital connectivity needs. The absence of an HDMI eARC port is notable, but the inclusion of Toslink offers an alternative avenue for connecting to a TV. The Altair G1.1’s commitment to versatility lies in its limitation to the most crucial connection types for digital and analog interfaces, including XLR, shared in this echelon of audio devices.

Auralic’s proprietary design features shine in the Altair’s connectivity array. The USB port, surpassing the conventional asynchronous connection, intricately cuts off the USB’s native 5V connection. Instead, it harnesses power via the high-quality internal “Purer-Power” linear power supply. Furthermore, including a temperature-controlled clock with a remarkable 72 fs (femtoseconds) accuracy ensures a clean power supply, enhancing overall connectivity precision.

While the Altair G1.1 may lack some of the specialized features in top-tier models, such as specific decoupling device feet, it compensates with a balanced selection of ports. It focuses on delivering essential, high-quality connections. This thoughtful connectivity design positions the Altair G1.1 as a pragmatic choice for audiophiles seeking to integrate their digital and analog audio sources seamlessly.

Operating Concept Unveiled: The Intuitive and Diverse Interface of Altair G1.1

The operating concept of the Auralic Altair G1.1 beckons users into a realm where intuitive control and diverse functionality converge. This streaming DAC, priced at approximately 3,000 euros, invites audiophiles to easily navigate its features, blending traditional control mechanisms with modern conveniences.

The device’s clear front panel provides an initial glimpse into Auralic’s operating philosophy. Controlled through a tactile rotary and push mechanism, the Altair’s interface utilizes symbols and menus displayed on a high-resolution color screen, surpassing 300 pixels per inch. The absence of touch controls, a departure from contemporary trends, speaks to Auralic’s commitment to a classic yet accessible approach.

The sophisticated Lightning DS app, an in-house Auralic creation, is a powerful controller for the Altair G1.1. While designed primarily for Apple users, this app streamlines device control and configuration, seamlessly integrating with popular streaming services such as Qobuz, Amazon, Tidal, KKBOX, NetEase, Highresaudio, and Internet radio via TuneIn. The Altair’s role as a music server is also underscored as the Lightning DS app effortlessly searches and organizes data storage devices connected to the device or on the network.

However, the app’s exclusivity to iOS/iPadOS may limit its accessibility. Auralic addresses this by offering an extensive setup via the web interface, allowing users to input Altair’s IP address into a browser’s URL bar. Alternatively, the device supports OpenHome-compatible apps like BubbleUPnP and Kazoo via UPnP. As an added convenience, the Altair is Roon Ready, catering to users of this popular music playback software.

Despite the small font size in the system menu, a commonality across Auralic components, the Altair G1.1’s operating concept impresses with its adaptability and diverse control options. This thoughtful design ensures users can tailor their experience based on individual preferences and seamlessly integrate the Altair into their preferred audio setup.

Addressing Imperfections: Critiques and Firmware Updates for Altair G1.1

While the Auralic Altair G1.1 stands as a beacon of audio excellence, the discerning audiophile may encounter a few imperfections, meticulously acknowledged by the manufacturer. A closer examination reveals these critiques, accompanied by Auralic’s commitment to continuous improvement through firmware updates.

Firstly, an occasional crackling sound during changes in sampling frequency has been identified. This subtle yet noticeable artifact, arising during transitions like the shift from 44.1 kHz to 48 kHz, prompted Auralic to confirm awareness of the issue and a promise of resolution in forthcoming firmware updates. As of the latest version (9.4), a switchable option called “Output Protection” has been introduced in the DAC setup, effectively addressing the crackling issue.

Secondly, the behavior of the Altair G1.1 when headphones are plugged in raises a point of critique. Ordinarily, one might expect the rear outputs to mute automatically. However, the Altair continues to allow the speakers to play concurrently. Auralic acknowledges this, and users are hopeful for a software enhancement in future updates to better align with user expectations.

Lastly, the Altair G1.1 lacks a conventional standby mode, offering only a “sleep mode.” While this mode keeps the network active, allowing the device to function as a server, its minimal power reduction (from around 14 W to 12 W) might not be sufficient for those aiming to minimize power consumption. Auralic recommends switching off the device if not used as a server for extended periods. The absence of a swift standby mode might inconvenience users seeking rapid reactivation, considering the Altair takes about one and a half minutes to boot up from a complete shutdown.

Auralic demonstrates a commendable commitment to addressing user feedback through firmware updates, ensuring the Altair G1.1 evolves and refines its performance over time. These critiques, though notable, are met with a proactive approach to enhancing the user experience and maintaining the brand’s reputation for excellence in the high-end audio sphere.

Symphony Unleashed: The Superb and Customizable Audio Performance of Altair G1.1

The Auralic Altair G1.1 takes center stage as a streaming DAC and an orchestral conductor of sonic excellence. Priced around 3,000 euros, this audio maestro captivates listeners with an outpouring of smooth and precise performance that resonates from the first notes.

Bit-Perfect Brilliance and Resampling Refinement

Initiating the musical journey, the Altair G1.1 presents an option to play music in its raw, “bit-perfect” form. As the initial bars unfold, the inherent prowess of the Altair becomes evident. However, the device doesn’t stop there; it invites audiophiles to explore further. Activating the internal resampler within the Altair introduces a nuanced touch to the melody, akin to the finesse found in more expensive counterparts like the Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 and the Meitner MA3. The Altair’s signal, upsampled to 352.8 or 384 kHz, breathes an airy quality into the music, creating an immersive and captivating listening experience.

Filter Variants: Tailoring Sound to Preferences

Auralic recognizes the diverse tastes of audiophiles, and the Altair G1.1 caters to this with switchable filter variants. Offering options like Precise, Dynamic, Balance, and Smooth, users can tailor the sound signature to their preferences. Opting for the Smooth filter, a minimum phase filter without pre-ringing, imparts warmth to the audio profile. Combined with or without resampling, this presents a captivating playground for enthusiasts seeking a personalized and optimized sonic landscape.

Integrated Headphone Amplifier: A Personal Listening Sanctuary

For those seeking an intimate listening experience, the Altair G1.1 incorporates an integrated headphone amplifier. Tested with the formidable Focal Utopia (2022) headphones, the Altair G1.1 impresses, though discerning headphone connoisseurs might note a slight lack of dynamic reserves compared to specialized headphone amplifiers. Nevertheless, including a headphone jack adds versatility, ensuring the Altair caters to a broad spectrum of audio preferences.

In essence, the Altair G1.1 earns its accolades through a symphony of customization options, delivering not just a superb audio performance but an immersive journey tailored to the individual tastes of the listener. Auralic’s commitment to providing a versatile and customizable sonic experience sets the Altair G1.1 apart as a true virtuoso in high-end audio.

Usability and Functionality Redefined: Altair G1.1’s Seamless Audio Ecosystem

The Auralic Altair G1.1 transcends the boundaries of conventional audio components, presenting a masterclass in usability and functionality. Priced at approximately 3,000 euros, this streaming DAC dazzles with its sonic capabilities and establishes itself as a user-friendly gateway to a sophisticated audio realm.

Intuitive Control Options: A Blend of Tradition and Innovation

At the heart of Altair G1.1’s usability lies an intuitive operating concept. The tactile rotary and push control mechanism, paired with a high-resolution color display exceeding 300 pixels per inch, invites users into an interface where symbols and menus facilitate navigation. A departure from touch controls, this classic approach ensures ease of use without sacrificing the tactile feel that audiophiles often cherish.

The device seamlessly integrates with the Lightning DS app, an in-house creation by Auralic. While exclusive to iOS/iPadOS, this app serves as a powerful controller, offering device control, configuration, and access to popular streaming services such as Qobuz, Amazon, Tidal, KKBOX, NetEase, Highresaudio, and TuneIn for Internet radio. Auralic’s commitment to user preferences further demonstrates its compatibility with existing remote controls, allowing users to tailor their control experience.

Web Interface and Alternative Apps: A Versatile Approach

Recognizing the diversity of users, Auralic ensures that setup and control extend beyond the Lightning DS app. A web interface allows users to configure the Altair G1.1 by entering its IP address into a browser’s URL bar. Additionally, Altair supports OpenHome-compatible apps like BubbleUPnP and Kazoo via UPnP, offering flexibility to users across different platforms.

The device’s Roon Ready certification adds another layer of versatility, catering to users of this widely acclaimed music playback software. Whether controlled through the Lightning DS app, web interface, alternative apps, or Roon, the Altair G1.1 exemplifies adaptability, ensuring users can seamlessly integrate it into their preferred audio setup.

Music Server Capabilities: Altair G1.1 as the Hub of Audio Exploration

Beyond its role as a streaming DAC, the Altair G1.1 extends its functionality to serve as a music server. The Lightning DS app facilitates the creation of a music library by searching data storage devices connected to the device or on the network. This library, accessible on the network, transforms the Altair and its siblings into servers, showcasing Auralic’s commitment to providing a holistic audio ecosystem.

In conclusion, the usability and functionality of the Altair G1.1 redefine the user experience in high-end audio. Its intuitive controls, diverse control options, and multifaceted functionality position it as an audio component and a hub for seamless audio exploration, where tradition meets innovation in perfect harmony.

Technical Brilliance and Unique Features: Altair G1.1’s Sonic Alchemy Unveiled

The Auralic Altair G1.1 is a beacon of technical excellence, seamlessly merging cutting-edge technology with unique features that elevate the audio experience to unparalleled heights. Priced around 3,000 euros, this streaming DAC is not merely a device but a manifestation of sonic alchemy.

Purer-Power Linear Power Supply: Elevating USB Connectivity

The innovative Purer-Power linear power supply lies at the core of the Altair G1.1’s technical prowess. Unveiling a departure from conventional asynchronous USB connections, the Altair ingeniously cuts off the USB’s native 5V connection. Instead, it draws power via the Purer-Power, enhancing the USB connectivity with precision and clarity that is unique and groundbreaking in its price range.

Temperature-Controlled Clock with 72 fs Accuracy: A Sonic Chronomancer

A standout feature contributing to the Altair G1.1’s sonic finesse is integrating a temperature-controlled clock boasting an astonishing 72 femtoseconds (fs) accuracy. This clock of audio signals benefits from a pristine power supply, ensuring a clean and stable temporal foundation for the entire audio chain. Auralic’s meticulous attention to clock accuracy sets the Altair apart, producing an audio experience marked by unrivaled precision and timing.

Switchable Filter Variants: Tailoring Sound to Preferences

Auralic acknowledges the nuanced preferences of audiophiles and equips the Altair G1.1 with switchable filter variants. Users can tailor the device’s sound signature to align with their unique tastes by offering options like Precise, Dynamic, Balanced, and Smooth. Including a minimum phase Smooth filter, devoid of pre-ringing, adds an extra layer of customization, allowing users to craft an audio profile that resonates with their sonic preferences.

Output Protection and Firmware Updates: Addressing Audiophile Feedback

Acknowledging the imperfections inherent in any complex audio system, Auralic is committed to continuous improvement. With firmware updates, the Altair G1.1 evolves, addressing critiques such as occasional crackling during changes in sampling frequency. The introduction of a switchable “Output Protection” option in the DAC setup, as seen in firmware version 9.4, exemplifies Auralic’s responsiveness to user feedback, ensuring a refined and optimized listening experience.

In essence, the Altair G1.1’s technical excellence is reflected in its state-of-the-art components and its unique features that redefine the boundaries of audio innovation. Auralic’s dedication to pushing the envelope of sonic possibilities ensures that the Altair G1.1 is a testament to the brand’s commitment to delivering nothing short of audio perfection.

Conclusion: Auralic Altair G1.1 – A Sonic Odyssey Unveiled

The Auralic Altair G1.1 emerges as a sonic marvel, encapsulating a harmonious blend of technical brilliance, innovative design, and user-friendly functionality. Priced around 3,000 euros, this streaming DAC not only meets but exceeds the high standards set by its predecessors, showcasing Auralic’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of audio excellence.

From its unique UnityChassis II design, marrying aesthetics with robustness, to the technical alchemy of its Purer-Power linear power supply and precision clock, the Altair G1.1 crafts an audio experience that transcends expectations. Its adaptability, demonstrated through switchable filters, customizable resampling, and diverse connectivity options, ensures audiophiles can tailor their sonic journey to individual preferences. With continuous firmware updates addressing user feedback, the Altair G1.1 stands not just as a product but as a dynamic and evolving symphony, inviting enthusiasts to partake in a sonic odyssey that defines the pinnacle of high-end audio.

Reasons to Consider the Auralic Altair G1.1:

  1. Sonic Excellence: The Altair G1.1 delivers a superb audio performance characterized by smoothness, precision, and customizable features. Its technical prowess, including the Purer-Power linear power supply and temperature-controlled clock, contributes to an immersive listening experience that rivals higher-priced alternatives.
  2. Innovative Design: Auralic’s UnityChassis II design, solid base plate, and meticulously milled components provide mechanical robustness and add an aesthetic touch. The device’s elegant yet understated appearance, along with a high-resolution display, enhances its visual appeal.
  3. Versatile Functionality: Serving as both a streaming DAC and a music server, the Altair G1.1 offers versatility. Its compatibility with popular streaming services, Roon certification, and seamless integration into existing audio setups make it a versatile centerpiece for enthusiasts.
  4. Continuous Improvement: Auralic’s commitment to addressing user feedback through firmware updates ensures that the Altair G1.1 evolves. This dedication to improvement enhances the device’s longevity and keeps it at the forefront of audio technology.

Considerations Against the Auralic Altair G1.1:

  1. Headphone Amplifier Limitations: While the Altair G1.1 includes an integrated headphone amplifier, audiophiles seeking the highest performance might find dedicated headphone amplifiers more suitable. The device’s headphone output may lack some dynamic reserves compared to specialized options.
  2. Exclusive iOS App: The Lightning DS app, Auralic’s proprietary controller, is available exclusively for iOS/iPadOS. Android users might find this limitation inconvenient, although alternative control options, such as UPnP-compatible apps, are available.
  3. Occasional Firmware Issues: The Altair G1.1 has faced occasional firmware issues, such as crackling during changes in sampling frequency. While Auralic has proactively addressed these concerns, potential buyers should consider the need for firmware updates and ensure compatibility with their preferred audio setup.

In summary, the Auralic Altair G1.1 presents a compelling option for those seeking an exceptional audio experience with a balance of innovation and functionality. However, potential buyers should weigh their specific preferences, including headphone usage and preferred control devices, to determine if the Altair G1.1 aligns with their unique audio needs.